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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Green

Don't Sit This One Out

Instead of observing and complaining about how Mom is becoming weak, I decided to do something about it.

We’d assumed that Mom was receiving individual physiotherapy—and had in fact requested it for her months ago—but it turns out that she has refused to participate with the physiotherapist, and no one in the home told us! How easy it would be to coordinate the time for her sessions with us so that either I or my dad could be there to assist.

What’s so important about physiotherapy anyway? Well, it turns out, quite a lot, especially if you are sedentary for more than half your day.

In a PRNewswire report from 2013, a survey suggested that Americans sit an average of 13 hours a day, factoring in work, home computer time, watching movies and even reading. Add to that an average eight hours of sleep, and most people are physically inactive for 21 hours a day.

In studies from the 1950s, train drivers were compared to more mobile conductors in England, and their prolonged sitting was linked to greater risk of heart disease and diabetes. It can also lead to a strained neck, sore shoulders, an inflexible spine, weakened abdominal muscles, and shortened hips, not to mention varicose veins and thrombosis.

It’s not that sitting is inherently bad, but that prolonged sitting can lead to serious health issues.

Most of us know about the benefits of exercise and an active life, but it seems that the majority of individuals don’t seem to care. A University of Cambridge study from 2015 published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, linked a lack of exercise—inactivity—to twice as many deaths as to obesity. Even thin people who were inactive had a higher risk of health problems than the obese who exercised. Their recommendation: at least 20 minutes of brisk exercise a day would have substantial benefits.

Which brings me back to Mom. It is clear to us that Mom is much more sedentary in her Alzheimer’s ward than she ever was at home. She sits for hours on end. Yes, the staff does walk her around the corridors at least twice a day, but we’ve already seen the harmful effects of her inactivity: Mom is incapable of walking upright; she drags her feet; her legs can barely straighten. Mom’s muscles are atrophying. It is most noticeable in her legs. When sitting, the hip flexors—combined muscles of the leg and knee—are contracted, which over time shortens their range of motion.

I’m not sure anymore of Mom’s stamina. What is she capable of? What should she be capable of? Can she walk more than one circuit of the hallways at any given time? Will it exhaust her to do more than that? Should I push her harder, even if it is uncomfortable? Is the disease also making her weak, or just the inactivity? What if she falls, even while we’re holding her?

What I do know is that physiotherapy can improve joint mobility and cardio-vascular function, mental health and state of mind, and increase muscle strength. Anyone can benefit from physiotherapy, especially someone who is living with a chronic illness.

Today, my dad and I did two important things. First, we requested that one of us be present for her physiotherapy sessions so that we could not only aid in her participation, but learn the types of activities that are good for her. Second, we took her to a more quiet part of the building, put on a great selection of show tunes, and, with a borrowed ball, played catch and stamped our feet.

It was a good visit. Mom actually laughed out loud several times as we played together. It was a positive way to connect and bring her back from that Alzheimer’s fugue, one that seemed to benefit not only Mom, but me and my dad as well. I look forward to continuing these activities with Mom. Who knows? Maybe they’ll motivate me to be less sedentary, too.

I’ve been in a pretty good mood today following my positive visit with Mom. It made me want to invest in making myself a healthy, balanced lunch. My husband Jeff believes that salads should always include carrots but never raw mushrooms. I am of the opposite opinion. You don’t have to stick to my selection of vegetables or toppings to make your salad fit for a queen (or king).

Queen’s Salad

There are many alternative or additional ingredients that you may consider using for this salad: avocado, pomegranate seeds, craisins, roasted red pepper, hardboiled egg, tuna, olives, orange pieces, broccoli, or even radishes. The salad that emerges is as individualistic as the person making it.

1 cucumber, chopped

10 cherry tomatoes, halved

5-6 leaves of green and/or red lettuce, chopped

1 red pepper, chopped

¼ cup red onion, thinly sliced

2 mushrooms, sliced

100 gram / 3.5 oz hard, salty Bulgarian cheese, cubed

1 tsp salad nuts and seeds

2 bread slices, toasted with olive oil and garlic, cubed

2-3 sundried tomatoes, chopped

1 Tbsp salad dressing of your choice


Prepare salad with cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce, pepper, mushrooms and onion. Toss salad. From this salad remove one to two cups to a separate individual bowl. Add cheese, roasted pepper, seeds and nuts, and bread pieces to the individual bowl. Top with salad dressing. Arrange artfully or toss and eat.

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